Skip to main content

Starfield's map is even worse than Fallout and Skyrim's

The question isn't where, but when?

A close up section of the map of New Atlantis in Starfield
Image credit: Bethesda

I don't remember this at the time, but there were complaints about Skyrim's map when it came out, because it was just an extreme zoom out on the world. It wasn't dense with information; the map markers were often kind of an "it's in this area" guideline that were even less helpful if what you needed was in a barrow or otherwise underground. Starfield raises the bar by taking the bold step of having a map that is almost not a map.

I'm referring here to the planet surface map. The starmap is, like a couple of things I've experienced since being hustled through quite an accelerated inciting incident (Starfield's equivalent of Patrick Stewart dying in a sewer after he's charged you with saving the world), reminiscent of Mass Effect. You can select different galaxies, which have one or two solar systems in them, and then can zoom down and select specific planets or moons or whatever to warp to. Once you're wombling about on the surface being a naughty little space captain - or whatever, I don't judge what you're up to - well baby, I hope you like blue voids with a bit of topography.

There isn't actually a dedicated map screen - at least not in the way you might expect for an RPG. To open the planetside you have to open your scanner first, and then can open a "surface map". This conjures the aforementioned blue void, which makes sense from at least one point of view. The vast number of places you can touch down on a planet will be procedurally generated for you to scamper about and scan whiskery space beetles. That being the case, a detail-light map that suggests where hills are and marks the location of some cardinal points is efficient and sensible.

In practise when you're playing, it's a little annoying in the more authored, quest-dense areas. The example picture up top is from New Atlantis, the first big city you go to. Despite being a Neon Street Rat who grew up in the mean alleys of somewhere called Neon city, which we can infer from the name may turn out to be Planet Cyberpunk, my character also has extremely middle class parents living in New Atlantis. Did I pick these perks to see if they would ever awkwardly collide in the game system? Haha, I'll never tell! When I turned up on New Atlantis a bartender asked me if I was new in town, and I didn't have the option to say that my parents lived there, which seemed weird. I decided to say that I was new, and roleplay in my head that I'd never been to visit my parents. Serves them (presumably) right.

I digress. New Atlantis is a nice, white stone place with pretty trees and waterfalls, as clean as a historic English town that's going to host a royal wedding in the next 12 hours. And indeed, all New Atlantis's poor people are stuffed down into a subterranean box district known as The Well. The Well is atmospheric and cool, but it's all an absolute warren with lots of dead ends, and it doesn't even get any kind of surface map. I suppose it's not actually on the surface, so. Fair enough. But both levels of New Atlantis are full of people asking you to do things like collect lots of sensors stuck to trees, fetch them a coffee, join their gang of space cops, join a separate gang of more local space cops, and of course you have to visit the club of adventurers-ish who drive the main story. I could have done with something a bit closer to Star Wars Jedi: Survivor's map style. Luckily if you open your scanner in Starfield it'll also highlight a track on the floor leading you where you're supposed to go.

This is all fine, but it makes you very reliant on your scanner and the quest markers in your HUD. And this is also all fine, unless your quest marker bugs out and, rather than showing the quest you actually want to track, selects one or more random tasks from those you've collected to highlight instead. That is, I have to say, frustrating. But I am at least paying a lot of attention to what's going on around me.

Read this next